Vulnerability, the Opposite of Insecurity.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” – Brene Brown

Recently an act of vulnerability, which looked an awful lot like truth and courage, was labeled as “insecurity.”  Or, put another way, a weakness.  To see care, honesty and concern called insecurity took my breath away.  Aren’t we all past that?!  It felt like being in the schoolyard watching someone get made fun of for wearing glasses or having pimples.  Seriously!!??  Aren’t we more evolved than that??  How can everyone not know – this is where it’s at??  This is life.  Connection is EVERYTHING.  

And yet, there was the word.  INSECURITY.  That categorization made me sad and frustrated – that so many people still see vulnerability as a deficit.  But it also made me realize how far I’ve come.  I remember when asking for what you want – information, affirmation, reassurance, encouragement – felt needy and bothersome to me, too.  I didn’t want the responsibility of someone else’s vulnerability.  Anyone’s!  In my mind’s eye, I could almost see my own arms fly out in front of me, physically creating space where I needed a wide berth emotionally.  Oh, no.  No, no, no.  I’m not that person.  I can’t meet your needs.  I can’t deal with your insecurity.  

Why such a visceral reaction?  Well, Dr. Brown suggests we get curious about our emotions when we have a strong one.  It’s a brave thing to do, get curious about your emotions.  What I discovered is that I didn’t want other people’s vulnerability (and still don’t, sometimes!) because I might not be able to fix them.  Well, I learned after a time, that most often, people aren’t looking for fixing.  They generally want to be heard, and  understood and maybe even appreciated or respected.  

I also didn’t want to get into this messiness because I might have to offer my own vulnerabilities.  Yikes.  Well, with similar curiosity, I thought I should find out why that was so scary to me.  If I was honest with myself, I didn’t want to be vulnerable, because I assumed most people were like me, and repelled by vulnerability.  Basically, I was pretty sure that at even the slightest hint of offering vulnerability, I would be rejected.  Why did I think that?  Because a couple of high-impact abandonments will do that to you.  I don’t think I have any more of those than the average person does, but I have had a couple of key people in my life not show up when they probably should have, and one or two who just disappeared entirely with no explanation.  Those hurtful acts have had a real impact on me, and one of the results is a tendency to be self-protective.  I’m on a long journey of undoing that crap, with God’s help.               

I remember my life before I could make a fair observation “you seem upset.”  And my life before I could genuinely inquire “are you ok?” I used to live a life where I read the signals, made assumptions, usually that someone was mad at me, I did something wrong, I messed up.  And that this misstep of mine had somehow impacted a relationship – the friend is going to leave me out now, the new boyfriend is no longer interested, the boss thinks I’m an idiot.  And I would go into defensive mode.  Time to play hard to get, be distant, standoffish, aloof, I can’t get hurt by you if I don’t care.  I can play that game with the best of them. 

Through reading books by really smart people – Brene Brown, Henry Cloud, etc., and having relationships with courageous people I learned a little.  Not a lot.  But I learned to stop making assumptions, to stop playing the game.  To ask questions.  To offer plain spoken care and support.  To invite empathy.

What I’ve found is that sometimes you still bump up against a person who is still stuck in the mud.  They will respond to your vulnerability with harsh criticism, rejection or mocking.  They will try to shame your courage because it is so far beyond them to operate with that level of authenticity, it scares them.  Don’t let this blow set you back.  Sometimes people need space, of course, but don’t let their unreadiness for your courage diminish your care for that person.  They may not let you in now or ever.  But it’s possible you’re exactly the kind of person they need.  

Vulnerability will often cost you something.  An unhealthy, wounded, scared person might charge you a high price for your vulnerability.  Enough to hurt.  It’s still worth it.  Love courageously.  Be brave.  Don’t quit.